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Evening markets: weak SA rains keep grain futures ahead

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Is it Groundhog week?

For a sixth week running, grains started the week strongly, as, yet again, ideas of rain relief for dry crops failed to live up to their billing.

OK, the main Chicago crops were no match for

orange juice

, which for March delivery hit a record high for a spot contract of 226.95 cents a pound, up 4.4% on the day, after the first finding of the tree-debilitating citrus greening disease in Texas.

This amid continued worries about the US restricting Brazilian imports after findings of banned fungicides.



in particular starred in Chicago after rains over the weekend in Argentina and southern Brazilian fell short of forecasts.

'Driest regions still dry'

"It appears that about 60% of the region received up to 0.5 inches with a few localised areas receiving more," Benson Quinn Commodities said.

"A few of the driest regions remain that way as totals in some of these areas were in the neighbourhood of 0.2 inches."

OK, there was some improvement on the latest weather models for rain ahead.

"The main difference is that the model is a little stronger with a cold front on January 28-29, and because it does the model has a bit more shower and storms over central and eastern Argentina in that time frame," weather service said.

'Crush margins turning positive'

But that was not going to unsettle investors, when there were other factors around to support the oilseed too.

For instance, the central area of Brazil, which is not dry - indeed is receiving too much precipitation for comfort, and certainly for the newly-begun harvest - "faces obstacles because of the incessant rain", FCStone's San Paulo office said.

And then there is Chinese demand to factor in, even if this may not make itself felt so much this week as the country celebrates the lunar new year.

"Chinese crush margins are turning positive, and soybean supplies at the ports are starting to shrink," US Commodities said, noting also talk that China's own producers "are sold out".

"Delays and production problems in South America have China looking to buy more US soybeans."

'Red hot'

And this at a time when America's own farmers seem to be sitting on their hands, allowing cash markets, for


and soybean markets, to hit historically strong levels, relative to futures.

"Basis levels remain red hot in the eastern Corn Belt. They are roughly 30 cents a bushel over the five-year average on corn and 25 cents a bushel over on soybeans," US Commodities said.

At the University of Illinois, Darrel Good said that basis levels were "at record levels for this time of year in some markets".

Furthermore, external markets were broadly helpful, with the


falling 0.5% against a basket of currencies, so making dollar-denominated assets such as crops more competitive as exports, and Brent


up 0.7%, improving dynamics for agricultural commodities used in making biofuels.

Indeed, ethanol pricing dynamics suggest that the economics of blending the biofuel into forecourt gasoline "will remain favourable even without the blenders' tax credit" scrapped at the end of last year, Professor Good said.

In fact, US ethanol production in the first two weeks of 2012, while down year on year, was nearly 5% higher than the same period of 2011.

Buoyant prices

Corn for March closed up 1.4% at $6.20 a bushel in Chicago, getting technical help from crossing the 50-day moving average, at just under $6.19 a bushel.

This level, having being broken on the way up, now looks like providing support during future price falls.

Soybeans for March ended up 2.6% at $12.17 ½ a bushel, breaking through their own clutch of moving averages, sited just below $12 a bushel.


for March, helped by fellow grain corn, gained 1.5% to close at $6.19 ¾ a bushel, breaking through its 50-day moving average, also situated just under $6.19 a bushel.

Wheat closed up 1.5%, at E210.50 a tonne, in Paris too, for March delivery, despite a stronger euro.

'Rethink in the market'

Back in New York, raw


added 0.3% to 24.96 cents a pound, continuing to gain support from ideas of delays to when the market will feel the impact of a return to production surplus in 2011-12.

"Reduced availability of Central American sugar due to reduced crops out of Mexico, and a potential increase in imports by the US, have caused a rethink in the market," Nick Penney at Sucden Financial said.

Furthermore, the weekly Commodity Futures Trading Commission report showing a jump in net longs in raw sugar futures and options "has helped the structure to strengthen, and give substance to the view that the potential statistical surplus may be seen later than earlier anticipated".

In London, white sugar for March ended higher for a 12th successive session, by 0.9% to $651.20 cents a pound.

Coffee slips

However, investors in New York


were said to have reacted less favourably to data showing that speculators had increased short exposure far less considerably than expected.

Investors made up for loast time, sending March futures 2.6% lower to 219.45 cents a pound


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